Victoria’s school principals are buckling under hefty workloads as authorities fail to keep the educators’ health and wellbeing in check.

The average school principal in Victoria works 55 hours a week during the school term and 21 hours a week during the school holidays.

That equates to about 94 hours a fortnight over the course of a year, which is 18 hours more than what they should ordinarily work, according to a report tabled in parliament on Thursday.

Principals’ hours haven’t improved since at least 2015.

The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office has put the onus on the Department of Education, which it said needed to do more to slash principals’ workloads – the most significant cause of their poor health and wellbeing.

One principal reported working 12 or sometimes 14-hour days, six days a week, while another asked: “How can I complete my role in 76 hours per fortnight?”

The department in 2018 told the government 19 principals had, over the previous five years, either self-harmed, been institutionalised or deemed at-risk of self-harm.

The department also needed to better monitor, evaluate and report on principals’ health and wellbeing, despite it having introduced dozens of initiatives to help address principals’ challenges since 2018, the office’s report found.

Many principals used and appreciated the services but they did nothing to improve their health and wellbeing outcomes.

“The lack of change in their working hours correlates with the trend in their health and wellbeing outcomes,” the office’s report said.

School principals consistently dealt with worse health and wellbeing outcomes than the general population, particularly when it came to sleeping troubles, burnout and stress, the report said.

They were also worse off than teachers when it came to mental injuries, which on average accounted for almost half of principals’ workers compensation claims.

“The department is not effectively protecting the health and wellbeing of its school principals,” the report said.

The Department of Education suggested COVID-19 could have worsened principals’ health, wellbeing and workload, but principals actually reported their best outcomes and lowest workload pressures in 2020 and 2021.

Department boss Jenny Atta, in response to the report, noted Victoria’s principals had better health and wellbeing scores than their counterparts in all other Australian jurisdictions.

Many of the department’s reforms were nation leading, and principals’ health and wellbeing remained a top priority, Ms Atta said.

The department accepted the office’s recommendations in principle.

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